Created for Fellowship

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


In his book What on Earth Am I Here for?, Rick Warren reminds us that we are called to belong, not just believe. He says our relationship with Christ is personal but not private.
This kind of fellowship is called koinonia. Koinonia is a Greek word that occurs 20 times in the Bible. Koinonia’s primary meaning is “fellowship, sharing in common, communion.” The first occurrence of koinonia is Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

We want to experience koinonia in our relationship with others. The best way for Christians to experience koinonia  is through belonging to a church.
 
Let’s look at the importance of being a member of a church family as Warren tells us.
 A church family identifies you as a genuine believer.
          It is a witness to the world
A church family moves you out of self-centered isolation.
          It is in the family of believers that we experience unity and a connectedness. We
          realize that we are not alone.
A church family helps you develop spiritual muscle.
          Being a part of a church family helps us to be in relationship with other believers.
 
The New Testament uses the phrases “one another” and “each other” over 50 times: pray for each other, encourage each other, admonish each other, greet each other, serve each other, teach each other, accept each other, honor each other, bear each other’s burdens, forgive each other, submit to each other, be devoted to each other, love each other. This is done through the church, the body of believers.
Real fellowship among believers is experiencing life together.  This kind of fellowship is not superficial. It is genuine, heart-to-heart, gut-level sharing. This happens in group settings when people develop trust.   Groups best experience fellowship – koinonia – when… the experience is mutual, there is sympathy, and there is mercy.
I am so blessed to lead two women’s groups that experience koinonia: the Women of Worth  (WOW) group and the Mom2Mom group. These groups love each other, have shared experiences, sympathize and empathize with each other, and extend mercy and grace to each other.  In the world of reality TV it seems expected that women will argue, call names, live in jealousy, and spew venom, it is refreshing to have 175 girlfriends in these two groups who show Christ’s love to each other and to others. This demonstration of love is real; it is koinonia love and friendship. Thanks be to God for these women!
 
To hear my 60 minute audio lesson on fellowship, click here:

Real Worship

Sunday, February 22, 2015


What gives us pleasure?  I find pleasure in looking into my grandchildren’s sweet faces and seeing those big blue happy eyes. I recently experience pleasure listening to an orchestra concert and heard plenty of old tunes from the big band era.

God created us for his pleasure. Our first purpose in life it to bring enjoyment to God. Bringing pleasure to God is called “worship.”  Anything we do that brings pleasure to God is an act of worship. Rick Warren tells us, “The most common mistake Christians make in worship today is seeking an experience rather than seeking God.”

A. W. Tozer, once regarded as a prophet of the 20th century, said, “True worship is to be so personally and hopelessly in love with God, that the idea of a transfer of affection never even remotely exists.”
So…how do we do a good job of pleasing God and making him smile?

“He takes pleasure in those that honor him; in those who trust in his constant love.” Psalm 147:11 (TEV)

We please God by what we do and not only by what we believe.”  James 2:24

A.    We please God when we give him our whole being – our heart and soul and mind and strength.

“Love the Lord you God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  Mark 12:30 (NIV)

We please him when we obey wholeheartedly…when we love him supremely…. When we trust him completely…when we praise and thank him…when we use our abilities…when we enjoy his creation…when we use kind words…when we tell the truth…when we encourage others.

Question:  “How much pleasure is God getting out of my life?”

B.    The heart of worship is when we surrender all of ourselves to him.

A.W. Tozer said, “The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little forward progress is because they haven’t yet come to the end of themselves. We’re still trying to give orders, and interfering with God’s work within us.”
We can’t fully surrender until we come to the end of ourselves. We fully surrender when we rely on God to work things out instead of trying to manipulate others, control situations, and force our plan. Letting go and letting God have ALL is our challenge.

Surrender yourselves to the Lord, and wait patiently for him. Psalm 37:7a (GWT)
 
Question:  "How much have I surrendered to God?"

It’s comforting to know that we are asked to surrender to someone who wants to be our best friend.

C.    We please God when we make him our best friend.

We make Jesus our best friend by getting to know him. We read of him and we talk with him. We carry on a constant dialogue with him. What are the characteristics of a best friend relationship? We trust our best friend. We share secrets with them. We are honest with them. We often indulge them. We talk kindly to them and they talk kindly to us. We say good things about them. We praise them. We introduce them to others.

 That only happens when we spend time with them. Jesus wants to be that kind of friend. How can we worship him in our friendship? All that we say, think, feel and do throughout the day will be an act of worship toward our best friend.
 
Question: "What kind of friend am I to God?"

Real personal worship characteristics

A.    Comes from a desire to give God our heart and soul and mind and strength

B.    Comes from full surrender to God

C.    Comes through building a relationship with God.
 
To hear an audio of my lesson, Real Worship, click below:

Life As a Metaphor

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


If your life were a metaphor, what would it be? Forest Gump’s mama taught him, “Life is a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” How do you describe life? Is it a game? A dream? A cabaret? A dance? A battle? A mystery? How we view life speaks volumes about how we shape our decision and what we think, feel, say, and do? In his book What on Earth Am I Here For? Rick Warren tells us the Bible offers three metaphors that teach us God’s view of life:


Life is a test, life is a trust, and life is a temporary assignment.

 Life on earth is a Test.
All of life is a test.  We are always being tested. Everything is important because everything we think, say, and do reveals our character.  Our responses to people and our experiences reveal who we are.  When we experience problems, conflict, success, sickness, we have opportunities to reveal character, and  we either show that we are walking closer to Christ or moving away. Perhaps the most important test comes when we don’t feel close to God – like those days when we’re in our cave of sadness or anger or depression.  Everything is significant.  Every moment of life is a growth opportunity.  Can we consider our obstacles as opportunities? It’s good to remember that god wants us to “pass” the tests of life, and He promises to give us the strength to endure them.

Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out. I Corinthians 10:13 (GNT)

Life on Earth Is a Trust
God has entrusted us with gifts and resources.  He has given us all things to use wisely. Remember, he has given each of us our garden to tend. God gave Adam and Eve the original garden. I’m sure he showed them the beautiful rivers, and streams and trees and flowers. He pointed to the sun and said, “I give you warmth of the sun during the day.” And then he said, “I give the cool of the evenings.” “I give you each other to love and care for. And go out and populate the earth and then care for the children and all mankind. But… see that tree over there? That’s the one thing you cannot have. That is for me.  You may not have the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  But enjoy everything else.  I set that boundary for your good and my glory.”  And what did Adam and Eve do? They crossed the boundary. God wanted them to take care of all the “stuff” of the earth and leave the one thing for him but they messed up his “trust system.”

Do we care properly for what gives us? Do we properly use our skills, and talents, and personality, and gifts, and finances and bodies and time and relationships? He’s entrusted us with them. Life is a trust. We are managers of all that God trusts us with.

Now, a person who is put in charge as a manager must be faithful. I Corinthians 4:2

Life on Earth Is a Temporary Assignment
Our life is short, we know nothing at all; we pass like shadows across the earth. Job 8:9

When compared with eternity, life is brief. I know that some days seem like an eternity, don’t they!! Are you familiar with the old gospel hymn, “This World Is Not My Home”?

This world is not my home I'm just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven's open door
And I can't feel at home in this world anymore

 We really are just visiting earth. We’re temporary residents on earth. We’re citizens of heaven. The Bible warns us not to get too attached to what’s around us because it is temporary.

Those in frequent contact with the exciting things the world offers should make good use of their opportunities without stopping to enjoy them; for the world in its present form will soon be gone. I Corinthians 7:31 (TLB)

C.S. Lewis said, “All that is not eternal is eternally useless.” How does our living today change when we begin to consider our permanent residence more important than our earthly one?

When we daily focus on life as test, a trust, and our temporary residence, we begin to bring more glory to God and greater blessings for us.
 
To hear the related lesson I taught from What on Earth Am I Here For? click here.
You Matter to God

Spiritual Christmas Gift List

Monday, December 22, 2014


Gift giving is a Christmas tradition ever since the Wise Men went bearing gifts to the baby Jesus. 

You all may have gift giving traditions in your family. We do. The whole family – all 20 of us – go to my parents house on Christmas morning as we have for my whole life. We eat breakfast -  pretty much the same menu for 60 years. Egg dish, biscuits, ham, fruit, something sweet and the Le Conte Sunrise, a fruit slushy. We hear the Christmas story and then in descending order of age, we descend down the stairs to the basement, pausing to have our picture  made on the last step and enter Christmas wonderland. The gifts are stacked in the exact same place as the year before and the year before, etc. We each know exactly where to go. Then we begin the opening. Some years we try to bring more order than others, but with the tribe increasing, it takes too long to wait on every person to open a gift before moving on to the next. If family members are getting the same gift, we make sure they open them at the same time. It’s all complete organized chaos and a whole lot of joy. Then we all simmer down and watch the matriarch and patriarch open their gifts. There are always a lot of laughs and some tears, for someone always manages to give a framed photo of a momentous occasion and we all ooh and aah and snap the cameras. Yes, gift giving is an important part of celebrating in my family.

Giving is important because of the effort, love and time it takes to make or purchase an appropriate gift. And in wrapping, mailing or delivering it! There is usually a lot of love wrapped up with gift giving! Some of us enjoy giving even more than receiving. We rejoice in our ability to create little blessings in people’s lives, by the things we are able to do for them!

We also need to make a Spiritual Christmas Gift List. Who are the people that you need to show the love of Jesus to during this season? Are there people you come across in your everyday life that need a little dose of Jesus?

The women of Christmas – Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna – offered spiritual gifts.

As we close, let’s look at the gifts our women of Christmas gave.

Elizabeth’s gift was joy. Elizabeth was joyful in her own news and in Mary’s news. It’s easy to be joyful when good things happen to us but how joyful are we with the good news of others?  Elizabeth stayed joyful even when she didn’t understood how in her old age she could bear a child. She stayed joyful when Mary arrived to share her own good news.

Mary’s gift was faith. Mary didn’t understand the news the angel brought. How could a virgin conceive.  However, because of her faith she accepted what she was told and was honored to be a part of God’s big plan.

Anna’s gift was gratitude. Anna was an old and lonely widow living in the temple. She spent her time worshipping God day and night and waiting for the redemption of Israel. She responds to the visit of the baby Jesus with thanksgiving. She’s thankful even after many years of hardship and loneliness.

Let’s pay attention to the gifts these women brought.. This Christmas, I pray that you use the gifts these women have brought: the joy of Elizabeth, the faith of Mary, and the thanksgiving of Anna.

Let us pray that God will show us the individuals in our world who still need the gift of Jesus. Let’s add them to our spiritual Christmas List.

 Every good and perfect gift is from above.              James 1:17

To hear the full audio of this lesson, click here.
Spiritual Christmas Gift List

Mary and Joseph: Life Interrupted

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Mary and Joseph had a life interrupted, so to speak. This happily engaged couple must have been in the middle of wedding plans when their lives took a sudden turn. You know what it’s like to be engaged - picking out the location, the cake, the guest list, and making all the other hundreds decisions betrothed couples make.  Then…the angel visits. Suddenly, their lives center on very different decisions. Joseph finds himself with an unmarried but pregnant fiancée. His initial knee jerk reaction was to quietly divorce her. He could have embarrassed her, disgraced her, or let her be killed…but he “considered these things.” I’m sure there were many potential joy stealers in Nazareth waiting to pounce on any bit of scandal! Joseph listened to the angel and considered God’s opinion before making his final decision. The gospel writer Luke tells us Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. Luke 1:24

 Joseph consulted God when his life was interrupted.

So what do you do when your plans get interrupted? Who do you consult when your plans are dashed, your ideas are nixed, when you experience disappointments, defeat or failure. Whose opinion do you consider when people attempt to bring disgrace to you? The naysayers and joy stealers? When life is interrupted, it’s important to consult God, the one who came to bring joy, not steal it.

Not only were there plans interrupted but Mary and Joseph had to deal with the reactions of the townspeople. I’m sure there were the gawkers, the critics, and the judgers. How about those who might have even be envious? These people would make many attempts to steal the joy right out from under Mary and Joseph. We’ve all experienced joy stealers.  Desperate people take desperate measures to steal our joy. God created the beautiful deep blue oceans for us to enjoy and to provide us food, yet sharks still swim in the ocean. And so it is with people. God created people to do good and to love each other, but there are still “sharks” among us. What’s so sad is these joy stealers in Joseph and Mary’s lives probably believed they were doing and saying God’s work and righteous Jews.  Self-righteous, sanctimonious people sat in judgment on the work God himself was doing. You know what is wonderful to think about? Mary and Joseph had a God who gives joy and doesn’t steal it. They both trusted God. And think about this, Mary and Joseph had the truth on their side. They lived in the truth, an important lesson when someone tries to steal our joy with lies and deception.

Do you think Mary and Joseph recalled the words of Samuel when they were dealing with joy stealers?

 17 “He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
18 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
19 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
20 He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me. 2 Samuel 22:17-20 New International Version (NIV)

What can we do when our plans are interrupted and when people try to steal our joy?

Pray
For courage, wisdom, guidance, and peace. Sing prayer of praise to God in the middle of the interruption.

Mary sang, My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Luke 1:46

Process
Properly process the information. Look for the truth of the situation. Deal with what you know to be true.  Consider these questions: are you dealing with a life changing interruption or a momentary bump in the road? Is this interruption a true catastrophe or are you dealing with catastrophic thinking? Look at the reality. Find where God is in the situation. Live in the truth of what you know and not in the speculation of the unknown.

Mary and Joseph trusted the angel. They believed that God could do a miracle through the power of the Holy Spirit. I’m sure they had many discussions about the unlikelihood that Mary had been unfaithful, but they lived in the facts of the situation and trusted God with the details.

Properly React
After praying and processing what you know to be true, be intentional, assertive, positive, and proactive in your response. Avoid knee jerk, negative actions that you will regret.

Joseph initially had a very human knee jerk reaction. He wanted to completely distance himself from Mary. However, after processing what he knew to be true, he properly reacted. He acted as God would have him act.

Providence
God is in control. God is in control. He is waiting to give his love and support and his peace in the interruptions. There’s an old gospel song that my sister and I sing out every once in a while called, “God’s still running this world.”  When we have doubts, interruptions, or come across joy stealers, we can find comfort in knowing that God is in control. We can lean into him.

Just as Mary and Joseph experienced interruptions, so do we. Our lives don’t always go as expected either. There are people who want to interrupt us and those who want to steal our joy. When they come, let’s give them to God and praise him in the middle of them. God will work things out.


To hear the audio of this lesson, click here.
Mary and Joseph: Life Interrupted 


 

 

Women of Christmas: Elizabeth

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


The gospel writer Luke uses the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah, parents of John the Baptist, to set the stage for the birth of Jesus. This couple had lived a long and happy life together seemingly content even though they didn’t have the child they longed for. Elizabeth’s barrenness is seen as a disgrace and the couple endure years of people attempting to dishonor them or shun them. However, they are more concerned about what God thought than what others thought -  a good foundation for a marital relationship, by the way!

Then… Gabriel is visited by the angel Gabriel who tells him Elizabeth will bear a son who will be great in the sight of the Lord and who will prepare the way for the coming Messiah. Unfortunately, in the most momentous encounter of his life, Zechariah doubts. As a consequence, he is struck speechless.  Luke tells us,

 Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. 25 “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.” Luke 1: 24-25

For the entire pregnancy Zechariah is speechless. However, he remains faithful to God. After the birth, at the circumcision ceremony, Zechariah confirms the name when he writes it on the tablet. “His name is John.” Instantly, John could speak again. His first words were of praise to God.

Elizabeth and Zechariah serve as heroes of the faith. Zechariah represents those who may doubt God for a moment but are willing to obey. Elizabeth embodies those who remain faithful and praise God even when they don’t understand his workings.  Even though they felt hopeless, God was waiting for the right time to encourage them and take away their disgrace. We see through them that God can do great things to anyone who allows God to work within.

This is the most exciting thought for me – God is working behind the scenes on our behalf too even when we don’t realize it. Imagine all the days, months, years of forethought that went in to choosing Elizabeth and Zechariah to give birth to John the Baptist the man who would prepare the way for the Messiah. Imagine all the years people had attempted to bring shame to their name, to dishonor them, to discredit them because they were childless. All along, God was working behind the scenes on their behalf. Elizabeth and Zechariah would have known the words of the prophet Jeremiah: God “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” He had a plan and purpose for their lives and when the time came for him to reveal it, they were found faithful.

Elizabeth and Zechariah offer us encouragement when we face doubt or feel hopeless or when people attempt to disgrace us. This righteous couple trusted in God and held on to each other during the times when people must have scorned them. And when the pronouncement came from the angel that Elizabeth would give birth at an old age and then she appeared in public for the first time, I’m sure the naysayers and doubters attempted to stir up a scandal. But through it all Elizabeth praised God and proclaimed, “The Lord has done this for me. How kind the Lord is.”

Let’s remember that God is working behind the scenes on our behalf. God wants us to know our purpose and to live an exceedingly abundant life. When we face doubt or feel hopeless or when people attempt to disgrace us, let’s remember that God is faithful. In order to live in our purpose and enjoy God’s abundance we need to do as Elizabeth did: trust and obey. The old hymn tells us, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way. To be happy in Jesus we must trust and obey.”

 For more of my lesson on Women of Christmas: Elizabeth, click the audio link below.

 

Thursday, November 13, 2014


When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. I Corinthians 13:11

This passage calls on us to put away three childish behaviors: talking like a child, thinking like a child, and reasoning like a child. In our relationships do we fall back into childish habits of speaking, thinking, and reasoning?

Speaking
How does a child speak? A child speaks to ask for things. A child speaks about wanting and wishing.  A child whines, pouts, and shouts.

Strategies for Mature Speaking
1.     Set a guard over your mouth –
Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Psalm 141:3 (NIV)
Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips. Psalm 141:3 (NLT)
2.     Mind the gap – Use the time between the stimulus and your response to consider your words.
3.     Don’t engage in verbal battle
“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something” (Plato).
4.     Lower the volume: You can’t carry on an argument in a whisper.
5.     Visualize your response before you respond. Picture it in action and then in the aftermath, ask, “Is this the response I want?” and “Is this the response Christ wants?”
6.    Engage in effective communication - Communicate exactly what you are feeling: “Please listen to me. Please understand why I’m feeling this way. Can you do me the favor of being patient?”
7.    Take a break -  If you need to cool off before attempting a conversation, give yourself a time out. Temporarily disengage. Be sure to re-engage and communicate in a considerate, positive, assertive tone..

Thinking

How does a child think?
The child thinks:
·         It’s not my problem.
·         I want that—give it to me.
·         I’m right.
·         That’s not fair.
·         If I cry, I’ll get my way.
·         If I wait long enough, someone else will do it.
·         Rules apply to everyone but me.

In The Child’s Conception of the World (1965) Jean Piaget described how children think.  Children often jump to conclusions and over generalize because they have limited information.  They play the blame game. They focus on self. They make mountains out of molehills. They live so much in the moment that they block out past positive experiences when they are in a bad situation. Many adults never grow out of this childish mindset.

Strategies for Mature Thinking
Think Intentionally –Deliberately choose to think positively and assertively. This is a pro-active approach. 
  • Ugly thoughts = ugly action
  • Positive thoughts = positive actions
  • Intentional thoughts=intentional actions
When the bad thought enters your mind, replace it by following these steps.
1.    Rename it – Tell yourself this thought is a negative, bad, ungodly, unkind, etc. thought
2.    Re-frame it – Focus on a positive or distracting thought
3.    Redirect your actions to something uplifting, fun, or engaging.

Reasoning
Finally Paul urges us to get rid of childish reasoning. How does a child reason? It may sound like this: “I’ve done something I was not supposed to do. But, if Mom and Dad don’t find out, I can get away with it.  So…I don’t feel bad about it. I can pull off a fast one!” 

What is reasoning? -  the process of thinking about something in a logical way in order to form a conclusion or judgment. The child reasons based on his perception at the moment.  Children don’t reason well because their brain is not even fully formed. The pre-fontal cortex where judgment and self-control are located is not fully formed until the mid-20s.

Strategies for Mature Reasoning
·         Avoid rushing to a decision.
·         Establish and verify facts of the situation/relationship/arrangement
·         Consider the consequences of actions.
·         Determine a logical response

Speaking, Thinking, Reasoning Like an Adult
As a child grows, his egocentric circle changes. He becomes less self-absorbed and more other absorbed. The more mature we become in our faith, the less self absorbed we become. The passage in I Corinthians is a good reminder to put away childish things in our relationships.

To hear my audio recording “Responding to a Biblical Fool,” click below.

Responding to a Biblical Fool

 
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